As Lent begins and the recession deepens, Catholic and Protestant churches are responding with donations, words of hope and Easter dinners for the needy.
Through the 40 days of Lent, members of Quincy Point Congregational Church will have a dramatic symbol for the country’s stormy economic seas – a sturdy ship anchor, on display at the altar with a cascade of brightly colored paper fish.
As the nation’s recession deepens, the Rev. Ann Suzedell hopes the display will be both a challenge and an assurance for her congregation during the season of reflection and repentance, which begins with today’s Ash Wednesday observances.
“What truly anchors your life?” she said. “Where do you find your hope?”
In different words and ways, Catholic and Protestant churches will offer that same message leading up to Easter, with charity drives and fasts for hunger relief, as well as prayers and sermons.
More than most years they can remember, clergy and believers alike say this season will be a time to “persevere, trust God and do what we can to help people get by,” as the Rev. John Mark Hannon at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Hanson put it.
EVENTS FOR THE SEASON
St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, Manomet: Spare change. Youth groups will collect money to donate toward utility bills and Easter dinners for the needy.
Plymouth United Methodist Church: “Pennies for Peace.” Youth collection for overseas village development.
Quincy Point Congregational Church: Food pantry cereal. Confirmation class will donate breakfast food to the Interfaith Social Service food pantry in Quincy.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Weymouth: Lenten collections. Donations will be sent to Haiti and a local aid program, My Brother’s Keeper.
St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Hingham: Pass the basket. Weekly donations for Hingham Interfaith Food Pantry and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Harbor United Methodist, St. Luke’s Episcopal, Scituate: Thirty-hour fast. Held Thursday and Friday. 2/2-2/27Donations go to World Vision hunger relief.
Holy Nativity Episcopal, Weymouth: “Hard Times Forum.” Financial advice and other help for laid-off workers, retirees and others.
He and other pastors won’t be giving the recession extra emphasis in their Lenten sermons. They’ve been speaking about it since last fall. But they say the familiar seasonal themes are likely to strike a stronger chord in the coming weeks, as economic worries spread.
Amid that mood, the Rev. Kenneth Overbeck at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Plymouth said his message will be, “No job does not mean (you have) no dignity; no house does not mean no home; no money does not mean no value.”
At Quincy Point Congregational, Terry Jackson says the recession is inspiring her to examine her own values this Lenten season, and to “not think about myself as much.” St. Bonaventure parishioner Noreen Morrissey will devote more time to prayer for the needy – and more attention to the growing needs around her.
“It’s hitting home,” Morrissey said.
Plymouth United Methodist is another congregation that’s been hit hard. When the Rev. Stan Cushing asked during a recent service how many members had been directly affected by the bad economy or knew someone who had, 30 out of 120 adults stood.
With a Lenten sermon series on Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”), the Rev. Cushing will urge his church not to view the recession as a time to cut back on giving, but instead to take it as an opportunity to focus on “the ways we can really make a difference in the world,” locally and overseas.
At Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Weymouth, the Rev. Harry Birkenhead and his congregation are trying to do that in a very direct way, with a “Hard Times Forum” they’ve held several times since December.
Scores of local workers and retirees have attended the sessions for advice and contacts about everything from jobs and personal finance to food stamps and property tax amnesty. At least one session will be held during Lent.
“If there’s a place where people can look and find some hope – that’s what the church should be about,” the Rev. Birkenhead said.
Lane Lambert is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does Lent mean? “Spring,” from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten”
When is it observed? For 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, not counting Sundays
Why 40 days? Forty is a spiritually important, symbolic number in the Bible; for example, the Gospels say Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days
Do Protestants observe Lent? The Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ and other mainline denominations do, although not with all the same rituals as Catholics; Evangelical and Pentecostal churches generally don’t observe Lent
Why give up something? To practice a more spiritual life
When does fasting occur? One full meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is required for all Catholics ages 14 to 59
Why aren’t Catholics allowed to eat meat on Fridays during Lent? The tradition of giving up meat seems to have begun in memory of Jesus’ death on Good Friday – no shedding of blood from “flesh meat” to honor the shedding of Jesus’ blood and his sacrifice.
Source: Americancatholic.org, Christianity Today, infoplease.com